The Big South Fork Scenic Railway located in Stearns Kentucky allows riders to take a step back in time. Justus Stearns brought this railway, preserved today inside the Daniel Boone National Forest and the Big South Fork River and Recreational Area, to the area in the early 1900’s. Stearns brought his logging and coal mining business to Southern Kentucky and set his headquarters up in Stearns.
The train takes passengers on a 16-mile round trip tour on the old Kentucky and Tennessee Railroad. From beautiful waterfalls to wildlife scurrying in the woods, the scenery during the tour is breathtaking. The locomotive winds through hills and valleys, making the very same trip that the coal made each day in earlier years. As the train ride progresses you hear recorded information about each point of interest. The train climbs and chugs it’s way through limestone so near the side of the train that you could reach out the window and touch it. Miners chipped the limestone away by hand, clearing only enough room for the train to pass.
Midway of the tour the train makes a stop at the Blue Heron Mining Camp. Ghost structures have been erected at the camp; these structures give a visual and oral history to passengers at the push of a button. Each area has recorded information told by actual miners at the camp. It is a real treat to have the ability to walk through the school house and hear the voices of people who went to school there.
During the stop at the Blue Heron patrons can visit the General Store to purchase souvenirs and refreshments. Passengers are allowed to walk into the mine entrance. The mine has been sealed, however the Park Service has replicas of miners inside the mine and an oral history is available. The Coal Bridge is open to allow passenger to walk across the river.
Your ticket for the train ride also entitles you to a visit to the McCreary County Museum. The museum was the original headquarters building for the Stearns Coal and Lumber Company. The tour of the museum is self-guided and you proceed at your leisure.
Inside the museum, you will see many exhibits filled with history. You will see an old moonshine still, which by the curators account, is still usable. An early farm kitchen is set up in one area, complete with wood burning stove. The Coal Mining exhibit contains photos of employees of the Stearns Mining Company, actual payroll books used during operation and many other interesting items. Many other exhibits are available, each one seemingly more interesting than the next.
This is an excursion that everyone should have the opportunity to experience. The next time you are looking for a weekend get-a-way in this area be sure to put this attraction at the top of your list.